The climax of the film, 3:10 To Yuma, takes place in a town called Contention. Contention is the main theme of the movie: men in contention with one another, men in contention with powerful worldly systems like the railroad and men in contention with God.
The story focuses on the lives of two men who are thrown together by circumstance. On the outside they appear very different. Ben Wade is a charismatic outlaw while Daniel Evans is a man of faith and family. Inside the men share two things in common; both are in a private war with the powerful railroad and both have a personal quarrel with God. The journey to Contention changes both men and, in an unconventional way, sets both men free.
Ben Wade's battle with the railroad and with God began the day his mother abandoned him in a railroad station. Instead of getting the promised train ride to a new life, he was left alone and told to read the Bible. From this wound comes a life of striking back at the railroad with a twisted sort of vengeance. He uses a fancy Colt and calls it "The Hand of God".
Daniel Evans, the man of faith and family, has his own quarrel with God and the railroad. For three years he has prayed to God for the drought to end. The absence of rain means no water for his cattle and makes him vulnerable to an unscrupulous profiteer who wants his land for the railroad. He is a desperate man who is reduced to begging and is losing the respect of his wife and son.
Two wounded men - one much like the prodigal son1 spending life in the indulgences of whiskey, women, gambling and guns; the other much like the older brother always doing the right thing, but growing in resentment and bitterness. Two men thrown together on a journey, contending with one another, yet forced into helping one another in order to survive. Along this road they encounter evil and corrupt men on both sides of the law. The most thought provoking question being asked in this film is, "Who is really good and who is really evil?"! The obvious answer is one you can't tell by externals; it is a question that goes much deeper and deals with the heart.
The hotel room scene in Contention is the most powerful one in the movie. All the men guarding Wade except Daniel bail out. Daniel chooses to remain. He chooses to risk and, if necessary, sacrifice his life for the sake of his son and family. Why? Because he loves them, and he sees his own life continuing on in his son. It is after he makes this choice that the rain is seen over Bisbee; the drought in Daniel's life is over.
The power of Daniel's love and sacrifice is not lost on the one carefully observing him. Ben Wade gets a new perspective on God and draws it on the front page of a Bible. Don't lose the restoration in this simple act. His new picture of God is Daniel, a father who will lay his own life down for the family he loves. It replaces the old picture of a vengeful God coming out of his abandonment wound.
Ben Wade finally gets on a train - the ride being purchased by the sacrifice of Daniel Evans. He willingly gives up "The Hand of God" after "laying his demons to rest". The movie's ending may not satisfy everyone. The question remains, "What did Ben Wade do with the life purchased for him by the sacrifice of another?". Isn't that the ultimate question every person must answer? Did you remain an outlaw or did you come home like the prodigal to the Father?
Scripture: The Parable of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15:11-24